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Louis XIV’s Mission to Siam

During the second half of the seventeenth century, writes Robert Bruce, France hoped to dominate Siam and convert its sovereign to the Christian faith.

The key figure in the French enterprise in Siam in the 1680s was a Greek, Constant Phaulkon, one of the most extraordinary of all European adventurers in the East. He rose from the humblest beginnings to remarkable wealth, power and honour. If his death was miserable - displayed in chains, tortured and executed in public - his downfall also signalled the collapse of France’s first great venture in the Far East.

Louis XIV sent two missions to Siam, one in 1685 avowedly to convert King Narai to Christianity and the other in 1687 to assume military and political control over the country. Had it not been for the deaths in 1688 of the King and Phaulkon, his Chief Minister, the French enterprise might have been proved a success.

The last of the great nations of Europe to spread her power into Asia, France under the Most Christian King made spectacular progress in the tropical East through religion, trade and armed diplomacy. Between 1662 and 1688 the focus of this activity was Siam which, for a brief period, became one of the most important centres of trade - and hence of political power - in East Asia. Dutch commercial and naval power did, in fact, dominate the Gulf of Siam, and the rest of the Far East, throughout the seventeenth century, but the combined efforts of King Narai and Phaulkon on the one hand and French priests, merchants and armed men on the other replaced the Netherlands for nearly the whole decade of the 1680s at the Court of Ayuthia.

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